Il contributo dei vivaisti catalani al paesaggio del Sud dell’Europa

Josep M. Pagès – Direttore Associazione Vivaisti di Girona

The background
Catalonia is a country in southern Europe, in the north-east of the Iberian Peninsula, bordering France and Andorra to the north and the Spanish regions of Aragon to the west and Valencia to the south. To the east there is 580 kms of Mediterranean coastline, Barcelona being its capital. The first commercial nurseries began production during the second half of 19th century in two distinct regions – around Barcelona and Girona. In the south of Barcelona the first nurseries grew young plants for fruit tree production and in the north of the city (Maresme County) some flower and bedding plant growers began cultivation to meet municipal needs. Around Girona the first nurseries were established in the river Ter valley, supposedly under French influence, and even today words like bouture and pépinière are employed. In this region initially poplars and plane trees were grown by river beds, as forestry plantations were the only options open before dam construction began further upstream. During the 20th century the nursery business evolved in a different manner in these regions. New floricultural crops were introduced from Italy during the 1920s in the Maresme County. Recently the main road in Vilassar de Mar, the principal production centre of this area, has been named Beniamino Farina Street to remind us of the Italian influence. The cut flower business grew steadily until the end of the century when globalization helped flower availability worldwide. Twenty years ago flower production began to change with more emphasis on ornamental horticulture production and during the last ten years there has been a strong inclination towards growing mainly flowering Mediterranean shrubs. In the Girona region the development of the tourist trade led to more camp sites, hotels, apartments and villas along the Costa Brava coastline. Since the 1960s there has been a growing demand for ornamental plants, and trees, especially so for camp sites. Production in nurseries has evolved considerably in recent years. Besides fast growing species like Populus, Platanus and Robinia nurserymen introduced Morus, Acer negundo, Populus alba, Fraxinus excelsior, F. angustifolia, and later the then named Prunus pissardii (now P. cerasifera ‘Pissardii’). Like this small tree cultivar introduction, launching new species and new varieties began during the 60s when tourists from northern countries (France, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands) asked for plants not grown in the region. It is estimated that only 25 species and cultivars were grown in Girona nurseries around 1950s, mainly trees, while more than 700 species and cultivars have been grown since the beginning of the 21st century.

At the same time (the 1960s), Spain registered an unprecedented economic growth which gradually transformed itself into a modern industrial economy with a thriving tourist sector. Cities grew to the extent that more and more plants were on demand. Since that time nurseries from Girona have been the main suppliers of conifers and shrubs and almost the only suppliers of trees for the Spanish market. However, during the last 20 years, other Spanish regions have developed their own nursery sector. In Lleida province fruit growers evolved to fruit tree nurseries during the 1950s and 60s and a few of them (around 10 %) are now growing ornamental nursery stock as well. In Southern Catalonia (Tarragona province), citrus production required large nurseries and, like Girona, the development of tourism created a demand for more stock by new nurseries emerging during the last part of the 20th century.

With political changes during the 1970s leading to a democratic state, all municipalities since 1979 have their own democratically elected representatives. Cities, towns and villages began to change and so the greater demand for ornamental plants. Existing nurseries grew according to demand and new nurseries were developed. Nurserymen began to travel abroad, mainly to France, Italy and Belgium. The Belgian and French nurseries became the main suppliers of young plants and new varieties. Business with Italian nurseries from Pistoia province then started. Nurseries in Pistoia have been the biggest single influence in ornamental plant production in Girona. Travelling and interexchange have greatly contributed to the rapid evolution of our nurseries. Of course it is not as easy as one might imagine. Not all varieties from abroad are compatible in our country and some nurserymen have taken risks with new species and cultivars only to experience failure. As elsewhere, other nurserymen have only copied what the principal ones were doing. And some introductions like Acer freemanii ‘Jeffersred’ AUTUMN BLAZE, Albizia julibrissin ‘Boubri’ OMBRELLA and Fraxinus angustifolia ‘Raywood’ are still best sellers after several years. As business contacts with foreign nurseries became more and more common, most of them have developed into very friendly relationships, especially between Italian and Catalan nursery owners. Three important events demanded large quantities of plants in the Iberian peninsula: the Universal Exposition Seville ’92 (Expo ’92), the 1992Olympic Games held in Barcelona and Expo ’98, the Lisbon World Exposition. So Catalan nurserymen became importers of various species and great quantities of plants that our own nurseries were not able to supply. Half of the imports of nursery stock for the Spanish market are today still made through Catalonia.

This biggest demand at the end of 1980s and the beginning of 1990s accelerated up the growth of existing nurseries and new nurseries were born. Thanks to established commercial and personal relationships, Catalan nurseries and their production capability were soon to be known. So foreign nurseries gradually bought increasing quantities of nursery stock and as a result of this, Catalan nurseries are supplying plants for all southern Europe landscapes. As relationships consolidated with Italian, French and Belgian nurserymen, suppliers of new varieties, plants and know-how had a great influence on Catalan and Spanish nurseries and landscapers, greatly contributing to enhance the quality of life in the Iberian Peninsula.

The increasing opportunities of exporting plants from our country to all over southern Europe and to other countries like England, the Netherlands or Germany was not solely due to good friendship with nurseries in those countries. A similar range of species is grown, and good quality plants are produced and sold at affordable prices. Regarding quality let me focus on plant hardiness. At first sight it might seem that plants produced in the Mediterranean region are not hardy enough for being planted in northern countries. Girona is located on the same latitude as Rome, with a typical Mediterranean climate. But there is a coastal barrier of small mountain range along the coast that halts the maritime influence which often has a tendency to soften temperatures in winter. So it is common to have below freezing temperatures, though only during the night and early morning.

Weather statistics of Girona (latitude: 41°54’05″N, longitude: 02°45’37″E). Data represent the mean value of each meteorological parameter for each month of the year (T = average temperatures, Tm = average of minimum temperatures, R = precipitation, DR = number of days where rain >=1 mm, DG = number of days where temperature <=0°C). The sampling period for this data covers from 1973 to 2000. (Source: INM). But nothing is perfect. Nowadays, as everywhere, there are a lot of rules and regulations and the added factor of competition doesn’t make life easy for our growers. I regret that most of our government regulations and policies regarding landscaping are not discussed with the nursery industry as much as we would like. However greater quality demands from our overseas customers are helping our nursery business to be one of the best in Europe, if not in the world. If price is not the only factor, take a visit to our great growing area.

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